The wilderness played an important role, affecting life in ancient Israel in several different ways. For instance, every year, at the beginning and end of summer, a hot, dry desert wind blows from the east. This wind, called sirocco, raises the temperature and can be quite destructive to vegetation. The wind was yearly reminder to Israel that the wilderness was within reach.
The wilderness also became a powerful symbol in the Scriptures. The symbols were apparently contradictory: negative, on one hand, and positive, on the other. First, wilderness was a place of danger where only wild beasts lived. It was a place of death and barrenness. God is life, fruitfulness, light, order, and harmony; in contrast, the wilderness was a place of death barrenness, darkness, and chaos.
However, the wilderness also was a place of transition, a place for meeting God, The wilderness experience began after the Israelites came out of Egypt, on their way to the Promised Land. The wilderness represented the transition from being different tribes and from being slaves for generations, to becoming a holy nation, a worshiping people, God’s treasured possession. The wilderness journey was a time of preparation. Although God promised to be with them and fight for them, the people needed to learn how to trust God. Trust requires time to grow. In addition, the trust that holds firmly is usually born in times of difficulties. True worship and faith arise from a heart grateful to God for his love, grace, and mercy.
The presence of God in the midst of the camp could not have contrasted more than it did in the wilderness. God intended the Israelite camp to be an oasis of life, grace, and light. Like Noah’s ark in the midst of the flood, it was meant to be a place of life in the midst of death, a place of order and harmony in the midst of disorder and chaos.
In this place of contrasts, God taught the tribes of Israel to be holy nation, a kingdom of priests He taught them how to be God’s people